Adaptive Rock Climbing Programs

By Anne Marie Chesterman

I work as a Recreational Therapist in an inpatient Rehabilitation facility in New Jersey.  Recently, as I was meeting with one of my patients and discussing his interests, he told me about an adapted rock climbing organization called,  Brooklyn Boulders, in which he participates. That conversation sparked my curiosity and started looking up adapted rock climbing programs.

 I was surprised how many groups there are and not only in New Jersey, but all over the country. There are many rock climbing groups throughout NJ, New York and Pennsylvania, as well as across the country. There are also mobile rock climbing programs that can be brought onsite.

Individuals with spinal cord injury, amputees, paralysis and autism spectrum disorder may all participate.

Resources (currently under construction 2/10/2021)

Outdoors for All Foundation, Washington

Pennsylvania Center for Adapted Sports Pennsylvania

Valhalla New York Adaptive Climbing Group

Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports


I started researching about the benefits that rock climbing could offer such as balance, flexibility, and mental strategic planning to name a few. The activity also encourages camaraderie as it presents opportunities to exchange and share experiences, which we know as clinicians are beneficial, especially if you are struggling with a new disability.


I did a little research on the types of equipment used for specific individuals requiring adapted equipment.  Individuals with a spinal cord injury can use handlebar style ascenders to assist them while climbing. They also can accommodate individuals that have pressure related issues that will allow them to experience the sport.

Amputees can use their prosthesis or just  a sleeve protector for the stump. If they truly embrace the climbing they can invest in a special prosthetic foot designed for climbing.

The information on working with individuals on the autism spectrum was very interesting and provided a lot of insight into the benefits rock climbing can provide.

Lebanon Valley College decided to have their early childhood and physical therapy students put to practice what they were learning in the classroom. Many children with ASD struggle with social skills, which can cause communication and behavioral difficulties. The physical therapy students also found children with ASD were underserved when it came to physical activity. As children with ASD age they become more sedentary and there are limited places to have and practice social interaction.  Maintaining social skills and appropriate levels of activity are very important.

That’s when they decided to start the rock climbing program. The students observed that initially the clients were quiet and not wanting to participate. After they started climbing and getting more engaged, they started to gain more confidence in the sport. The students learned valuable lessons for their perspective majors which they were able to combine to provide a rewarding experience for the participants. The website for more information on this program is

I hope this provides information on a sport that many would not have considered participating in before.

Ann Marie Chesterman

For more than twenty-five years, Anne Marie Chesterman has worked at Kessler institute for rehabilitation. Her primary focus has been with the stroke and amputee population providing recreational and educational programs.   Anne Marie is a senior therapist in her current position. She is certified as a recreation administrator since 1980 and became certified as a CTRS in 1996. She facilitates 2 stroke support groups as well as community outreach for health fairs.  She has been board member of the NJ CRID since 2015 and is on the Program Planning Committee. She has been the team captain for the American Heart Walk for the last 5 years.

For Additional Information

Kaplan-Reimer, H., Sidener, T.M., Reeve, F.F., & Sidener, D.W. (2011).   Using stimulus     control procedures to teach indoor rock climbing to children with autism.        Behavioral Interventions, 26(1). 1-22.   doi10.1002/bin.315


The present study evaluated an intervention package for teaching route following to two children with autism at an indoor rock‐climbing gym. The intervention consisted of multiple within‐stimulus fading procedures in combination with errorless learning procedures, positive reinforcement, an error correction procedure, and conditional discrimination training technologies. The results demonstrated that both participants learned to climb at least 10 ft/3 m on specified routes. Furthermore, both participants learned to climb an entire 22‐ft/6.7‐m wall for at least one of three different routes without any errors in a regular rock‐climbing gym setting. The acquisition of this skill provides children with autism with an additional option for leisure participation with others.

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